The Case for Minimum Wage

Photo: Daegan Tyrtle

Summer is fast approaching, and the time has come for McGill students to plan their four months of freedom. The resume boosting, soul fulfilling possibilities are endless. Internships, volunteer work, and travel opportunities are tantalizingly possible for many students, but how can we properly appreciate the impact of a life changing experience — on a life that has just begun? The best way for high achieving students to spend their summer is probably right under their noses: work. The minimum wage job has a bad reputation, but there is a lot more going for it than the bimonthly paycheque. Enough cannot be said for the character-building, humbling effects of a boring job on a young person, not to mention the thrilling proximity to independence. Though not every student relies on summer job cash, that does not lessen the value of these jobs.

Being a cog in the machine may not be empowering, but it is educational. There are some things that McGill, for all its books and clubs, simply cannot teach you. Diplomacy, for instance, is a skill best learned not through Model UN, but through customer service. Handling unreasonable people is not an innate skill, but it is quickly learned when your job is on the line. In my long history of uniforms and punch cards I have dealt with some crazy customers, so I know it is hard to be polite when someone thinks that yelling about bad service will make their order arrive faster. As unpleasant as it is, being forced to interact with entitled grumps makes it a lot easier to deal with them when they reappear throughout life. If you can combat a rude remark with the positivity and manners of a happy-go-lucky cashier, you are one step ahead those who refuse to even crack a smile. Appearing to sympathize with an outrageous complaint is a complex art, but it can be perfected with the intensive practice minimum wage jobs provide.

Teamwork is essential to succeed in a minimum wage job because employees are so dependent on each other. If a student does not try in school they alone face the consequences, but when an employee neglects their job, their coworkers are the ones left to pick up the slack. The expectation is to be there for your coworkers, and is therefore necessary to stay late help closing the store or delaying lunch to clear out an unexpected rush. For this reason, employees often end up working above and beyond the job description for the sake of the team. School is one of the few situations where we fend for ourselves, where our successes and failures are ours alone, but in most aspects of life we need to count on each other. Being depended upon incentivizes reliability and a strong work ethic, traits that are valued everywhere and moulds a person to stand out against all the flakes.

Mustering up the motivation to power through an essay becomes a lot easier when you have a summer of mopping up other people’s messes under your belt

Jobs of this nature also toughen you up to hard work. Minimum wage employees are often given tasks that no one else wants to do, so the work can be grueling or just plain boring. Cleaning toilets and taking out garbage isn’t fun, but doing these chores makes you more resilient in the face of other unpleasant tasks. Mustering up the motivation to power through an essay becomes a lot easier when you have a summer of mopping up other people’s messes under your belt.  However, self betterment is only one reason why it is important to perform these undesirable jobs. Minimum wage jobs make up a large part of the economy, so we need to understand them in order to understand our daily lives. To skip this tier of employment is to resign oneself to an eternal blind spot for the experience of working on the ground. Working as minimum wage employee often softens people to others in those types of jobs, and the world badly needs less angry customer complaints and more pizza delivery tips.

Minimum wage jobs not only make you a better person, but  also offers a unique insight into the corporate world. There are a lot of pros to working at the bottom tier of a big corporation. Store discounts, the flexible schedule, and the opportunity to be a part of a close community of employees your own age are all enticing perks, but the biggest one of all is the chance to have first hand experience with the deep, dark secrets of a company. I worked at Cineplex during high school and was shocked to discover that every cashier is taught an expertly crafted script, constructed to manipulate movie goers into buying a whole bunch of stuff they do not need. Customers would come to my till asking for a bottle of water and would walk away with a large buttered popcorn, two regular cokes, and skittles. There is no better way to learn about a system than to be a part of it, and although I used my discoveries to backup my contempt for consumerism, that is far from the only possible takeaway. From the construction of a butter pump to the ins and outs of the hiring process, there is a lot to learn about how a business functions from behind the counter. Whether you are critiquing, supporting, or just learning about the system, it is important to experience it first hand so you can make that call informed.

Nothing sounds more appealing to a student fresh out of Intro to East Asian History than to apply their new education on a journalism internship in Shanghai, but opportunities like these will still be there after graduation. Before hopping a plane and exploring the world, take the time to learn about the workforce at home, because if our university degrees do their job and get us careers in our field after graduation, minimum wage work will not be in our sightlines for much longer. We have our entire lives to go soul searching, but now is the time to distribute our McGill-studded resumes, tighten our visors, and get to work.

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